Over the holidays I got to spend some time with some friends and to “remeet” their daughter who’s now 11 months old and interactive. Anyway, as most 11 month olds are, she got a bit uppity and I overheard the parents scold her with the whole first name-middle name thing. I’d never known her middle name until that point. It was Kristin.
In the summer of 2005, my friend Kristin was killed in a traffic accident. It was just before my junior year of college and I was back in Pennsylvania to be part of the community theater’s production of Damn Yankees. We all went to different colleges, but we’d get back together for the summers and usually end up at the community theater. One evening, Kristin was running late to practice, didn’t see the blinking lights at a railroad crossing and never made it.
That was the first time someone close to me had ever died. I’d lost my grandfather before then, but it didn’t feel like this. I still remember the night it happened. She never showed up to practice. I’d just gotten home around 10pm when the assistant director called me. I guess he called me first because he didn’t think he could make the rounds and call other people. My dad was sitting on the couch when my phone rang. I took the call and had to go to the other room. The next hour was horrible, calling my closest friends to tell them the tragic news. My best friend’s mother told me to “shut up” in disbelief.
No one wanted to be alone, so by midnight, we all reunited at Liz’s house to just sort of sit together. We didn’t tell stories or talk about anything, really. It was too early for that. We just sat in a darkened room being alone together.
Going back to college in the fall was one of the hardest things I’d ever done. What happened to Kristin united all of us in a way like nothing else. It also didn’t help matters that there was a girl involved (of course) and what would have been a summer fling ended up getting ramped up to enormous heights. That fling chose the other guy in the end which was nice icing on the shit cake, so by the time I got back to Chicago, I was utterly heartbroken, depressed and had never felt more alone in my entire life. To this day, I carry around a betting ticket from the last time Kristin and I went to the track together. She was a cool girl. She taught me how to bet on horses.
I bring all of this up to help illustrate that my memories of Kristen have always been bittersweet. She was a lovely person and I’ve been thinking about all the sadness that came from her death since then. Hearing that little girl’s middle name brought it all back.
Flash forward to yesterday.
My friend at work was telling me about the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fest and all of the great bands that’ll be there this year. We got to reminiscing about all the concerts we’d ever been too and it got me thinking about the Bethlehem Musikfest I used to go to every year with my dad. It was a two hour trip each way, but we’d go ever year to see the Red Elvises.
Ever wonder what a bunch of Russian guys singing rockabilly sounds like? Then wonder no more, my friends. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Red Elvises are fucking great. Seriously.
Anyway, I was telling my friend all about the glories of I Wanna See You Belly Dance and their awesome rendition of Blue Moon when I remembered the last time I’d ever seen the band.
It must have been the summer of 2004. Maybe even 2003. I’d recently graduated high school – I know that much, and I graduated in ’03 – and that same group of friends rented a cabin in the Poconos for a long weekend. It just so happened to coincide with the weekend the Elvises would be appearing at Musikfest. So I ditched everybody for an evening and drove an hour and a half each way through parts unknown to find Bethlehem. I offered an open invitation to anyone with me to come along, but I guess they didn’t share the same love of rockabilly that I did. They all said no. All except Kristin.
I’d completely forgotten about all of this. The fest that year was great and the band was amazing. Right before they went on stage, I saw some of the Elvises walking around behind the scenes and I had a mini geek-out session when I spied Oleg, the base player. I was seriously star struck.
Before I knew it, Kristin was calling him over and I now have a picture with the coolest bass player there ever was. Don’t believe me? The guy uses a converted balalaika as a bass.
Anyway, all of that came rushing back yesterday and I couldn’t help but laugh. I’ve been carrying around all of these heavy memories of Kristin all these years and here I’ve had this golden one all along. That was still a hard summer and I’ll never forget her, but here I am all these years later and Kristin still finds a way of making me smile.
Wherever you are, Kristin, I hope you’re good. Also, betting on a horse just because it has superhero bridling has proven to be a bad decision time and again. Just an FYI …